21 Day South Island Showcase New Zealand itinerary

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Our 21 Day South Island Showcase New Zealand itinerary takes you to all of the must see spots on New Zealand's stunning South Island.

Copyright 2017 Google - Map data Copyright 2017 Google

Beginning in Christchurch, the "Garden City" you then head north along the beautiful Kaikoura Coast, through the Marlborough wine district to Nelson, and the Abel Tasman National Park.

Next the wild West Coast with its glaciers and rainforests, before heading inland to the spectacular Southern Lakes towns of Queenstown and Wanaka. Milford Sound is high on the list of places to visit at least once in your life. Unbelievable!

Also in your itinerary are Dunedin, with its Scottish charm, and the World Heritage listed Mt Cook.

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Day by day -  click on each day for more detail, then when you finish just click on your browsers back button to return here

Day 1 Arrive Christchurch

Day 2 Explore Christchurch

Day 3 Christchurch to Hanmer Springs

Day 4 Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura

Day 5 Kaikoura

Day 6 Kaikoura to Nelson

Day 7 Nelson

Day 8 Nelson

Day 9 Nelson to Punakaiki

Day 10 Punakaiki to Franz Josef

Day 11 Franz Josef

Day 12 Franz Josef to Wanaka

Day 13 Wanaka to Queenstown

Day 14 Queenstown (and Milford Sound?)

Day 15 Queenstown

Day 16 Queenstown to Invercargill

Day 17 Invercargill to Dunedin

Day 18 Dunedin

Day 19 Dunedin to Mt Cook

Day 20 Mt Cook to Christchurch

Day 21 Christchurch to home


Day 1 New Zealand Itinerary - Arrive Christchurch

Welcome to New Zealand, and Christchurch, the "Garden City".

Home to over 700 parks, Christchurch is a beautiful city, and is also the gateway to the Southern Alps, which can be seen to the South of the city.

Why not see the sights on a Christchurch Classic Double Decker Bus tour - click for more details

Collect your rental car

Need a rental car or camper van?

We offer market leading rates and have access to all of the major suppliers.

And our huge range means that we will have something to suit your needs.

To see our range and check availability just click here.

Where to stay in Christchurch

There are numerous motels close to the international airport, the closest being the Sudima. It rates very highly on the review sites although we have not stayed there ourselves.

We have stayed at the Airport Gateway Motor Lodge (around 10 minutes drive from the airport) which is really good. They also offer a free shuttle service which is very handy if you are arriving late at night.

Another favorite of ours is Pavilions, which is close to restaurants on Papanui Road, Merivale and is around 15-20 minutes from the airport.

For something a little upmarket, the Heritage, located in Cathedral Square in the city center, is well worth trying. We loved the location, high ceilings and spacious rooms.

The bedroom in one of the suites at the Heritage hotel Christchurch

Getting to your hotel

If you are hiring a car, all of the major brands have offices at or near the airport, but please confirm your collection point when you book.

Taxis and shuttle buses are available from the airport. Check first to see if your hotel offer a free shuttle, as these can save you quite a bit.

If your hotel don't have a free service, you can book a shuttle bus here.



Day 2 Christchurch

Today on your New Zealand itinerary, take your time to explore Christchurch.

We can highly recommend punting on the Avon as the perfect start to your New Zealand adventure. Click for more information.

Christchurch has a very "English" feel to it, and even has the river Avon running through it.

Last time we were there we stood on a bridge over the Avon and watched several trout swimming below. In the middle of a large city!

Nearby you can take a relaxing punt or canoe ride on the Avon! What a perfect serene introduction to the "Garden City".

For great views of the region, a trip on the gondola overlooking Christchurch, or a drive to the sea side "French" settlement of Akaroa, located nearby on the beautiful Bank's Peninsula, are both highly recommended.

Akaroa is also proving popular as a spot to swim with the dolphins. Although we have yet to try it, our customers love it - you can read their reviews here.

Amazing views from the Christchurch Gondola. Click for more details on this great activity.

Another great attraction is the International Antarctic Centre located near Christchurch airport. Detailing the history of Antarctic exploration, it's an interesting attraction, and is often worth visiting if you are looking to kill a few hours before your flight leaves.

Try the wind chill room. Brrr!

Lots more to see and do here

There is lots to see and do in and around Christchurch.

To learn more about things to do in this great city, check out our dedicated Christchurch page here.



Day 3 Christchurch to Hanmer Springs

Take the short drive (1.5 hours) north to the thermal village of Hanmer Springs.

Hanmer has a large thermal pool complex, with pools of varying temperatures.

What a relaxing way to spend a few hours!

The complex also houses a water slide complex for the kids and the young at heart, including a completely enclosed slide. Nothing like hurtling downhill in darkness!

Ahh the serenity! The Hanmer Springs pools are a must do if you are in the area. We thank them for the use of this image

And if you really want to indulge yourself, why not try one of their relaxing spa treatments. With a range of  products including facials, massages, and hot stone therapy, it's the ideal way to unwind.

You can learn more on their website here.

And there is lots more to do in Hanmer Springs, with activities including bungy jumping, jet boating, horse riding, golf and hiking all available.

Hanmer Springs also has a wide range of accommodation to suit all budgets.

We have stayed at Tussock Peak Motor Lodge which was very comfortable and centrally located, a short walk to the hot pools and restaurants.

Click on the following link to view a range of Hanmer Springs hotels.



Day 4 Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura

There are so many highlights on your South Island Showcase New Zealand itinerary, and this is one of them.

Today you head off to the stunning coastal town of Kaikoura (2 hours).

Kaikoura is famous for it's seafood, whale watching, seal colony, and wonderful scenery, where the mountains meet the sea.

Kaikoura, where the mountains meet the sea

In the colder months the peaks are covered in snow, providing some amazing photo opportunities. The image of the snow almost down to the sea on our last visit is one we will never forget.

When staying in Kaikoura we always like to stay on the waterfront, and one of our favorite motels is the Anchor Inn.

We can highly recommend their 2 bedroom dual level suites, which have amazing ocean views.

Make sure you tell the owners that we recommended them.

Browse your Kaikoura hotel choices here.



Day 5 Kaikoura

Today is the day to take a whale watching trip. Best to do it early in the morning before the wind and seas pick up.

A giant Sperm Whale off Kaikoura

The whale watch Kaikoura tours are well run, and very enjoyable.

The guides get you actively involved in "spotting" for whales and as soon as someone spots one, it's quickly back to your seat before the captain speeds off in the direction of the whales.

You may also see dolphins, seals, and other marine life.

There are also several seal colonies near town, where you can get some great pictures of these beautiful marine mammals in their natural environment.

Can you see me? A seal pup at the Point Kean colony near town

Ohau Point is located on State Highway 1, around  20 minutes North of Kaikoura. There is a roadside car parking area and you can watch the seals playing below. There is also a track following a stream into the forest. The 300 metre walk leads to a waterfall and pool. In the winter months, the seal pups play in the pool, leaping and diving and chasing each other. Great stuff.

Nearer to town, the Point Kean seal colony is also well worth a visit. From the center of town, follow the waterfront Esplanade, into Avoca Street, then into Fyffe Quay,  all the way to the car park at the end. It's probably a four or five kilometer drive. When you reach the car park, the seals are there!

You can get reasonably close for pictures, but be aware that these are wild animals so stay a safe distance.

It's also a great opportunity for some more amazing photos back over the bay towards Kaikoura and the mountains.



Day 6 Kaikoura to Nelson

Today your New Zealand itinerary takes you from Kaikoura to Nelson and the Tasman region .

Kayaks in the stunning Abel Tasman National Park

Nelson is a "largish" town of around 50,000 people, perfectly located on the shores of Tasman Bay.

In the winter months, snow caps the surrounding ranges.

Nelson is also the gateway to the famous Abel Tasman National Park.

Access to the park is via the small bayside village of Marahau, which is about 1 hours drive from Nelson.

There are lots of tours available into the park and highly recommended are kayak trips and of course a walk on the famous Abel Tasman Coastal Track.




Days 7 & 8 Nelson

You have two full days to explore the Nelson region. The Abel Tasman National Park is a "must see".

Marahau at the entrance to the Abel Tasman

You can choose to take a short walk in the park, overnight walks, or even a kayak trip.

Nelson also has a vibrant wine industry, so perhaps a visit to a local winery?

If your plans include a trip to the Abel Tasman, take the time to visit the stunning little village of Kaiteriteri. A beautiful spot for a snack while looking over the bay.

If time permits, a trip to Golden Bay and Farewell Spit is also recommended. On the way stop off at Te Waikoropupu Springs (Pupu Springs). 

Said to be the clearest springs in the world, they discharge over fourteen thousand litres of cold fresh water every second!

The Nelson region is another truly stunning part of New Zealand.

We know you will love it.



Day 9 Nelson to Punakaiki and West Coast

Today your South Island Showcase New Zealand itinerary takes you from Nelson on the north coast, to Punakaiki (3.5 hours) on the rugged West Coast NZ.

Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki on the West Coast

Punakaiki is known for the Pancake Rocks and blowhole. The rocks are columns of limestone, which resemble stacks of pancakes. Punakaiki is surrounded by the Paparoa National Park, which covers some 30,000 hectares.

Punakaiki has several accommodation options, but our favorites are:

1) Punakaiki Resort, a beautiful sea side hotel located beachfront. Your room looks directly over the ocean, and the excellent restaurant offers you the chance to watch the sun setting over the ocean. A great way to end the day.

Wave Watchers cottage at Punakaiki

On a clear day you can look across the bay and see the Southern Alps, which are snow capped in the cooler months.

AND

2) Wave Watchers cottage. Located right on the beach, this beautiful old cottage has two bedrooms looking over the ocean, 3 bathrooms, and extensive outdoor decking. A special spot.

You can search for other Punakaiki accommodation and read customer reviews here.

Around 5 minutes walk North of Pancake Rocks, on the Eastern side of the main road, there is an easily accessible glowworm cave (Punakaiki Cavern), where you can see these amazing creatures in their natural environment.

The region is also home to a variety of walks including the Truman Track (1 hour return) and the Pororari River Track (2-3 hours return). Both offer great views and relatively easy walking conditions.



Day 10 Punakaiki to Franz Josef

Today takes you from Punakaiki to Franz Josef village (2.5 hours drive). The village has many accommodation options, and is the base for various tour operators.

Kim and Tim at Franz Josef, way back in 1998

Franz Josef Glacier ( a World Heritage Area) drops from a height of 2,700 meters above sea level, to about 240 meters above sea level, within a distance of 11 kilometers, making for spectacular viewing.

When you arrive in the village, check out the options for tours, as you may need to book ahead for day 11.

Also be aware that weather conditions change quickly in this part of New Zealand, so your itinerary allows a full day free tomorrow for flexibility when booking tours.

Lunch with friends at The Landing in Franz Josef. Great food.

When in Franz Josef we have stayed at Punga Grove,  and the Alpine Glacier Motor Inn.

Both are clean, comfortable accommodation and close to pubs, restaurants, and the hot pool complex.

The Monsoon Inn is one of our favored spots to eat and has a good range of food at reasonable prices.

And in the cooler months, they stoke up the open fire. Lovely!

They also have a very catchy logo, "When it rains, we pour".

Our other favorite eatery is The Landing, located on the highway in the village. I had the best steak sandwich I've ever tasted, and they also make a wicked seafood chowder. Highly recommended.



Day 11 Franz Josef

Today on your South Island Showcase New Zealand itinerary you are free to explore Franz Josef (and nearby Fox Glacier).

Here we are back in about 1998 on the snow fields above Franz Josef Glacier (sorry about the poor picture quality)

There are various options for guided tours, helicopter flights etc. The heli flight and landing on the top of the glacier is highly recommended (if a little expensive).

Flights vary in duration and cost, and if budget allows, we recommend a snow landing on top of the glacier.

On our last flight we were allowed to get out and walk around on the snow fields and take photos. The air was so clear and the views were unbelievable.

The ice walks are also very highly rated, and you will be amazed at the colors of the ice. The coolest blues that you can imagine. Here's one of the better walks - click here.

The small group Franz Josef ice walk is an awesome way to see the glacier up close - click to learn more.

If you are looking for something a little more sedate, a walk to the face of Franz Josef Glacier may be more to your liking.

Make sure that you take a comfortable pair of shoes as the walk takes around 1.5 hours return from the carpark.

At day's end, the hot pools are the perfect spot to soak and reflect on your adventure.

Around 23 kilometres away is Fox Glacier, and the township. There are a range of tours available and a  selection of accommodation and places to eat. The glacier itself is around six kilometres from the village.



Day 12 Franz Josef to Wanaka

Today's drive takes you along the west coast to the small village of Haast, then inland to the lovely lakeside township of Wanaka.

The stunning Haast River valley

Haast has a few cafes, a hotel, and a petrol station, so be sure to top up your fuel before heading inland to Wanaka.

The drive from Haast to Wanaka has been rated as one of the World's great drives, and you can easily understand why.

After heading over the (very) long bridge out of Haast, the highway follows the Haast River for miles, and the views up the river valley are stunning.

Eventually you come to Makarora, and the head of Lake Wanaka, which hugs the road on your right hand side for quite a way.

At "The Neck", a thin piece of land, Lake Wanaka disappears from view, but the equally impressive Lake Hawea appears on your left.

Lake Hawea at The Neck

Make sure to have your camera charged! The scenery along this road is the equal of anything on earth.

Wanaka is a highlight of your New Zealand itinerary. Wanaka is, in many ways, similar to Queenstown. It sits on the banks of a stunning lake, Lake Wanaka, and is a base for the two world class skifields, Cardrona and Treble Cone.

Wanaka feels a little more relaxed than Queenstown, and the layout of the town centre seems less cluttered.

Dining options abound along the lake front, and provide the perfect setting for a relaxing coffee or meal.

There is plenty to see and do in Wanaka, with attractions like Puzzling World, the historic Cardrona pub, trout fishing, and 4wd tours to name a few.

Lake Wanaka, taken opposite the main shopping centre. Beautiful!

The Cardrona Pub is a wonderful place to relax with a meal and a local wine or beer.

In the warmer months, it has a large grassed outdoor eating area, and in the cooler months, a roaring open fire to warm you.

Puzzling World is great fun. Adults and kids will love the huge range of hands on puzzles, optical illusions and the maze. It's a very easy place to spend a few hours.

Other things to do include a sight seeing trip on the lake, or a game of golf on the picturesque local course (we hope you play better than we did).

The historic Cardrona pub, between Wanaka and Queenstown

You can search for things to do in and around Wanaka by clicking on the button below.

You can also read reviews for many of the activities.


Where to stay in Wanaka

Wanaka has many accommodation options, but a lake view is well worth the extra money if your budget allows.

You can view a wide range of Wanaka accommodation, and read reviews by clicking here.

We love to stay at The Moorings. Lakefront, wonderful views and very comfortable.



Day 13 Wanaka to Queenstown


Today takes us to Queenstown, the "Adventure Capital" of New Zealand.

Looking down on Queenstown from the Skyline Gondola complex on Bob's Peak

There are two roads from Wanaka to Queenstown. The road through Cromwell takes around 1.5 hours, and is fairly uninspiring by New Zealand standards.

Much better to take the shorter (1 hour) drive via Cardrona, over the Crown Range.

The views are stunning, and the road is claimed to be the highest main road in the country.

Be aware though that the road can be affected by ice and snow in the cooler months.

If you have time, stop off at the historic Cardrona hotel for morning tea or lunch.

Accommodation in Queenstown

With everything from camping grounds and backpacker hostels, to five star luxury resorts, Queenstown has something for all tastes and budgets.

We can highly recommend Pepper's Beacon in Queenstown - click for more information

Be aware though that parking in central Queenstown is mostly pay as you use, and can be scarce in busy times. Queenstown is also very hilly, and for these reasons, we recommend staying somewhere close to the center of the town, close to the main shopping area.

We usually choose Pepper's Beacon because it's a level, three minute walk to town, has amazing lake views, and has a range of accommodation from hotel rooms to penthouse suites.

Our best advice is to read reviews and see what other guests thought before making your bookings.

And we generally advise to book in advance, as Queenstown is a busy, busy place.

You can search for a wide range of accommodation and read guest reviews by clicking here.



Days 14 & 15 Queenstown

Queenstown is one of the highlights of your South Island Showcase New Zealand itinerary.

A trip up the gondola to the top of Bob's Peak should be high on your list of things to do in Queenstown.

Well, where to start with Queenstown! There seems to be an endless supply of Queenstown activities on offer, and this is one of our favorite New Zealand destinations.

Set on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown offers something for everyone. You can do as little, or as much as you like.

And you can be as "mild" or as "wild" as you like. Thrill seekers love the place, but it's also a great spot to just sit back on your deck with a local beer or wine, watching the world go by.

At the top of most New Zealand holidays are Milford Sound tours.

The trip from Queenstown is around 4 hours each way, which makes for a very long and tiring day if you drive yourself. Much better to take an organized bus tour, or bus one way and fly the other (flights are very much dependent on weather conditions).

A trip to Milford Sound, including a cruise, should be high on your list. Pic courtesy Tourism Holdings - click for more information about these amazing tours

Milford Sound has been described as the eighth Wonder of the World, and is New Zealand's most popular tourist attraction. Another option is to stay in the lakeside village of Te Anau, which is around 2 hours drive from Milford Sound, and is the nearest accommodation to Milford.

Other things at the top of the "Queenstown list" are a trip on the Gondola to Bob's peak, for amazing views (the complex also houses the Skyline Restaurant and luge ride), a cruise on lake Wakatipu on the old steamer TSS Earnslaw (try their fresh baked muffins from the on board cafe - yum!!), a thrilling jet boat ride, or perhaps even a bungy jump from one of several locations.

The TSS Earnslaw docks at Walter Peak. What a wonderful relaxing day. Click to see more information on tours.

We jumped from the original bungy site at the Kawarau Bridge, a drop of 43 metres. What an amazing experience!

Skydiving, parasailing, white water rafting, mountain biking, hiking and ice skating are just a few of the other activities available in and around Queenstown.

The scenic drives along the shores of Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy and Kingston are also highly recommended.

The region is also home to a number of wineries, and at last count, over 100 restaurants, cafes and pubs.

You can search through a huge range of things to do in Queenstown, and read customer reviews by clicking on the button below:



Day 16 Queenstown to Invercargill

Today your New Zealand itinerary takes you to the southern city of Invercargill (2.5 hours). Invercargill is located on the Southern Scenic Route, and is the southernmost and westernmost city in New Zealand. It is the gateway to Stewart Island and the Catlins.

Foveaux Strait in Southland

Invercargill has several museums and art galleries, and a short drive away is Bluff, home of the famous Bluff Oyster.

Stewart Island is the third largest New Zealand island, and is located 30 kilometres (19 miles) off the southern coast. The ferry trip from Bluff takes around 1 hour each way. Stewart Island has many interesting nature walks, and spectacular scenery.

View Invercargill accommodation here.



Days 17 & 18 Dunedin

Today, your New Zealand itinerary takes you to Dunedin (around 2.5 hours drive).

Struggling up Baldwin Street on the iconic Dunedin half day city tour - click here

Dunedin is the South Island's second largest city, with a population of about 120,000. Dunedin is a university town, attracting students from many countries.

Dunedin has a Scottish heritage, and in fact was formerly known as New Edinburgh. This Scottish influence can be seen in the local Edwardian architecture, such as St Paul's Cathedral, the Town Hall, Dunedin Railway Station, and the historic Larnach Castle, located some 13 kilometres from the city centre. Claimed to be New Zealand's only castle, it is well worth a visit if you are in Dunedin (you can even stay there).

Dunedin also houses New Zealand's first Botanic Gardens, and is home to a wide range of marine and birdlife.

You can learn more about Dunedin and its many attractions on our dedicated page here.

Where to stay

As befits a city the size of Dunedin, there's a wide range of choice for accommodation.

We recommend doing your research and reading reviews before booking.

For a very highly rated hotel in central Dunedin, the Aurora on George is well worth a look. It's close to the University, the rugby stadium, and is around a half hours drive from the airport.

Click on the following link to search a huge range of Hotels In Dunedin.



Day 19 Dunedin to Mt Cook

Your South Island Showcase New Zealand itinerary continues today with the drive to Mt Cook (4 hours drive).

Magnificent Mt Cook in Autumn - pic courtesy Rob Suisted

Mt Cook (Aoraki) is New Zealand's highest peak at 3,753 metres, and is part of Mt Cook National Park, which also contains the mighty Tasman Glacier. At 30 kilometres in length, it is one of the largest glaciers outside the Himalayas.

From mid September to late May, the Glacier Explorers tour takes you across the glacier's terminal lake where huge icebergs tower above. Highly recommended.

Mt Cook village has several accommodation options and is also home to the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, which is located in the Hermitage Hotel complex.

The Glacier Explorers tour near Tasman Glacier at Mt Cook - pic courtesy Vaughan Brookfield

Other things to do include hiking (check on weather conditions before leaving), glacier flights and walks, and just lazing around looking in awe at Mt Cook.

One of our fondest memories is sitting in the lounge area at the Hermitage Hotel, watching through huge picture windows as a blizzard descended on Mt Cook. Within an hour or so the weather had cleared and Mt Cook was bathed in sunshine. Just goes to show how quickly the weather can change in the alps.

Mt Cook will be a highlight of your New Zealand itinerary.



Day 20 Mt Cook to Christchurch

Lake Tekapo

Your final car trip today is a 4 hour drive back to Christchurch.

Along the way, stop off at Lake Tekapo for a view of the unbelievable turquoise waters of the lake. The Southern Alps, including Mt Cook, form a backdrop, and provide a memorable photo opportunity.

Tekapo is a lovely little village and we have had several overnight stops there.

There is a good selection of motels and a few restaurants, and it's a good alternative to stopping at Mt Cook village.

The Church of the Good Shepherd

If you are lucky enough to be there in late November, the multi colored Lupins will be in flower.

Tekapo is also home to the Church of the Good Shepherd, which must be one of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand.

If you decide to stop the night, and if time permits, why not take a relaxing dip in the hot pools at Tekapo Springs. It's a wonderfully relaxing way to end the day.



Day 21 Christchurch to Home

Fly home.

Unfortunately, all good things must end, but we hope that our 21 Day South Island Showcase New Zealand itinerary has inspired you to visit the magical South Island.


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